There was no kindergarten when I was growing up in Yugoslavia, and my first attempts at socializing started at the ripe age of five in preschool. While most of my classmates in senior grade were veterans, jaded and resilient, skillful at banter and repartee, as well as avoiding elbow nudges in the lunch line, I was a novice… a wide-eyed, timid, and precocious child, too serious and mature to fit in, and not at all flexible enough to fight for a spot at the forefront.
Making friends was never an easy game for me and it took a lot of time and a few amazing people to convince me that I was someone good enough to call a friend. I decided to switch continents more than twenty years ago and putting the ocean between me and my friends was one of the most difficult decisions in my life. I have several shoe boxes filled with letters framed (from the days before email) with that old red, white, and blue airmail insignia that used to thrill me when I’d open the mailbox. These magical letters travel with me every time I move. I cannot part with pages and pages of words that arrived from afar when I felt I was utterly alone in my new country.
I depended on my tribe to help me with advice, to encourage me when I needed a prompt, and to admonish me when I was taking a wrong turn. They were on the other side of the world, but airmail letters (par avion) turned to emails and webcam calls thanks to the technology that I despised as a haughty Liberal Arts college student. We were as connected as if we were living on the same street. I embraced every facet of communication trying to stay close to my family and friends, knowing they were only a Skype call away when I needed them.
But I am in California now, nine hours behind European time. When I am sipping my second glass of wine close to midnight, they are wide awake at work, blinded by sunshine and completely removed from the melancholy mood that engulfs me. In a state of utmost desolation a few weeks ago, when it seemed that the world was collapsing all around me and I was sinking deeper and deeper into a quicksand pit, I called one of my best friends and when he answered on his cell phone, I sobbed my story to him, utterly displacing him and forcing him into a state of panic induced by the abrupt cessation of the call, as my Skype credits evaporated.
Unbeknownst to me, that call started a chain reaction with him calling my sister in Germany, who called my daughter in Berkeley, who in turn called me as soon as she woke up that Sunday after St. Patrick’s Day party somewhere on campus. My tribe was pulling together for me, reaching through the ether and joining to come to my aid. I called for their support and they aligned forces beautifully, prepared to listen to my incoherent cries and offer as much comfort as they could from that far away.
But another tribe was reaching out to me, enveloping me in soft, billowy words of support, anchoring me while I was adrift, convincing me that California sunshine is for real and that one day soon the clouds in my eyes would disappear. For a moment, I felt abandoned and alone just like in preschool, but when my email, Facebook, and Twitter exploded with words of concern and wishes to help, I was overwhelmed. I knew I still had an enormously steep slope to climb to get myself out of the hole, but realizing that I would not be alone on that adventure, made it appear easier.
My birthday on March 20th was threatening to be one of the worst days of my life, but instead I floated on this cloud of warm and fuzzy feelings and I felt as if I were receiving small injections of energy every time a new wish would come my way. I was not able to lift myself up and face the ugliness that surrounded me, but my friends were there, in real life and across the wires, listening to me, holding my hand, sending sweet words of support and love, and making me see the future much brighter and liberating than I could have ever envisioned.
My gloom melted little by little while I sipped cool prosecco on an afternoon with a friend at a tapas bar… when the mailman handed me a big package filled with the most carefully chosen edibles that another friend’s children picked for mine… when I donned a silly glittery crown at a local Mexican restaurant and blew out the candles while everyone around me sang “Happy Birthday!”… when a friend from Canada sent me a fresh-from-the-printing-press copy of the book her husband just published… when a beautifully written card arrived in the mail hiding within its fold a gift certificate for Trader Joe’s… when I sipped a cappuccino at a local mall with the first friend I made through my blog… when my girls handed me their meticulously crafted birthday cards while a candle burned in a flourless chocolate cake they baked for me… when a friend from the East Coast soothed me patiently for hours while I cried and another friend from the East Coast managed to shake me out of a moment of despair… when I opened a bag full of cosmetics sitting in the passenger seat after a high school play… when a Twitter friend generously offered her accommodations if I ever needed them… and when another invited me to a wonderful event as a guest…. all these things shined light into a darkness I couldn’t bear alone.
I am still using Skype as the umbilical cord that connects me to my family and friends overseas, but I know that I am not alone on the western edge of the American continent. My tribe is with me and my path seems to be illuminated by a thousand scintillas floating my way from all over the world. And I feel safe.
There is comfort food and there is safe food. Rice pudding always gave a smell and a taste that made me feel safe and I can taste it even without the recipe… the smell of it riding on the words of those who have proved to me that I am not so alone as I sometimes feel.
- 250gr Arborio rice
- 1 quart (1 l) water
- 2-3 cups of milk
- ¼ cups granulated sugar
- ½ cup raisins (optional)
- 2 tsp cinnamon
Rinse the rice and place in the heavy pot. Cover with the water and heat to boil. Turn the heat to low and simmer for 12-15 minute, until almost done and water almost evaporates.
Add the milk little by little and cook on low heat, stirring frequently, for 20-25 minutes, until creamy and thickened (depending on the type and initial doneness of the rice, you might need between 2 and 3 cups of milk). Keep in mind that it will thicken more as it stands after itâ€™s taken off the heat.
Stir in the raisins if using and sugar and pour into serving dishes. Sprinkle with cinnamon and let stand at room temperature. (You can also refrigerate it if you choose).